Shared Knowledge is Shared Power: A Conversation with Laura Calvert for National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day 

During this year’s National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NWGHAAD) we are highlighting Laura Calvert, a Sexual Health Educator at Emory University. March 10 is NWGHAAD, a day to raise awareness about the impact of HIV on women and girls and reemphasize the need for greater prevention efforts to end the HIV epidemic.  

Calvert (she/they), has years of experience in community health, including experience as a youth services coordinator at Thrive Alabama and as a lead HIV health educator with Gwinnett County Health Department. For this NWGHAAD, we asked Calvert about their experience working with and advocating for women and girls living with HIV: 

My journey [into the HIV space] started after graduating with bachelors. I didn’t have much direction in college and said yes to the first job that offered me a position, which was outreach specialist at an HIV clinic in North Alabama. It was a full circle moment for me because it was the same clinic I would go to get tested at while I was in high school! 

In that job, I found a community who supported my growth, both personal and professional, and a passion for creating welcoming spaces for people to learn and be curious about something that has the aura of stigma and fear around it.  

I get emotional when I think about this day because it makes me think of all the Black women working in HIV and sexual health who molded me and taught me what it means to be both an educator and advocate. And in turn I get to uplift women and girls and give them the power to take the lead in their health and advocacy. It is so special to watch women give each other the power to speak up, get tested and destigmatize HIV. 

There have been great leaps, even in the seven years I’ve been in the field, to center Black women and their needs, but there’s always more [that can be done]. I take my direction from the community I am serving and educating, and I think when we truly listen to Black women’s voices, we can make a huge difference. 

I like to let my women, girls and femmes center themselves and lead the conversation! There are so many spaces, especially if we also identify as Black or Brown or queer in addition to a woman, where we are talked about, but we aren’t talked to. I’ve gotten good over the years of giving people the space to share their lived experiences and knowledge and supplementing that with education and safety tips. From feedback, the lessons and information are remembered and shared more, which is what we all want! Shared knowledge is shared power. 

When I’m providing education to everyone, but especially women and girls, I always touch on the assumptions. HIV is shrouded in fear and stigma, and as kids we pick up what I call “The Should’s.”  

“The Should’s” are things we “should” know, and we “should” do or we “should” believe. These are often rooted in our cultures and belief systems. However, there are more perspectives that we can learn about and incorporate that may feel more authentic to us.  

I think all women living with HIV should know that you are never wrong for asking more questions. Whether you are asking your provider about risks, or to clarify education or asking partners about their status and when they’ve been tested. It is never wrong to ask for more and that goes double when it comes to your health and safety.  

Women, especially young women and girls, are the ones who are defining what culture is. I think others may push back on that, but you can see their hands in everything. And because of that, we are shaping how HIV is talked about, from on the ground testing and education to policy, advocacy and leadership. No matter how you present yourself, girls are the moment and movement. 

Calvert’s responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity. For more information about National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day click here 

This publication received support from Partnering and Communicating Together (PACT), a funded partnership between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Division of HIV Prevention, and some of the nation’s leading organizations, including AIDS United, which represents the populations hardest-hit by HIV. Learn more at Let’s Stop HIV Together.